At the beginning of this year it dawned on me that 2015 marks my tenth year of preaching (more or less). That’s a funny thing to me, because, as I mentioned yesterday in my post about turning 34, I do feel like in so many ways I’m just getting started in life. And that applies to my preaching as well. The “ministry of the word”, as they call it, is one of the central callings of my life (so far as I can tell), and in my heart I feel as though I’ve only lately “left the Shire.”
But ten years of doing anything is nothing to sneeze at, and when I look back over those years, I realize that I’ve learned some really concrete lessons that guide how I do what I do on a (mostly) weekly basis now–with the result that I am able to hold this ministry with ever greater clarity, power, conviction, and most of all, joy.
Those of us who labor in this ministry know that for all the rewards it can give–seeing moments of insight erupt on people’s faces, watching lives transformed, seeing people set free, delivered, and enabled to more faithfully live the life to which they have been called–it can also be extremely disorienting, frustrating, and sometimes downright demoralizing.
Some of that, I think, just goes with the territory. One is reminded of the great prophets of Israel–fellas like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel–whose preaching, according to YHWH, was not likely to result in accolades but rather scorn. “Afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted” sounds wonderful in theory, but when you get down to it, it can really wear on you. Thus YHWH’s challenge to each of them: “Do not be afraid–I am with you.” The occupational hazard of preaching, which none of us can avoid, if we are to be faithful to God, is that the repeated exposure inherent in the task of preaching can leave us feeling raw and vulnerable. We need to know that God is with us, and then stand up, yet again, and speak in his name.
Some of the disorientation, frustration, and demoralization, however, boils down to a whole bunch of practicals. When I started preaching 10 years ago, I found that despite having a raw gift, which was affirmed often and by many, it was the practicals, which I had not yet grasped, and that for the most part only time and experience could really teach me, that were repeatedly tripping me up. Not having a clear grasp of what preaching really was, not knowing what kind of a life I had to live to hold the ministry of the word, not understanding what went into effective preparation, not trusting that preparation when I actually got up to preach, etc etc… my preaching was pretty “hit or miss” in those days, as it always is for those who are just setting out to preach, because of my failure to grasp those things and more.
My conviction is that this ministry can and should be both rewarding, and effective. As one who shares in it, I have a real love in my heart for those who labor each week in the service of the word and desperately want to help them. At its best, preaching is beautiful and compelling. At its worst, it is oppressive, confusing, and frustrating. I’d like to help those of you who feel called to this ministry come to a clearer grasp of what you’re doing so that your preaching rises to the level of the beauty of God’s kingdom–which, after all, our preaching is meant to open up a window into.
So what we’ll do is this…
Each week, I’ll write one or two short (500-700 word) blog posts on a lesson I’ve learned, and include along with each post a “practical” that you can think about or start to try to put into motion in your own preaching. I’d love to hear from you–so if you have questions, feedback, comments, or things you’d like me to weigh in on vis a vis preaching, I want to hear it. (Who knows? Maybe your own feedback will turn into one or two of the lessons.)
What I’l ALSO do is host Periscope sessions here and there where I’ll talk live online about some of the stuff we’re discussing here. Which should be pretty fun.
(A DISCLAIMER: the “lessons” I’ll be posting will be more or less “at random”–stuff straight from my heart. I’m not going to try to impose an artificial structure on it; rather, I’ll just reflect on what’s become really important to me. So if you’re looking for a comprehensive “theology of preaching” or something, this ain’t the place :).)
I’m looking forward to this. If you know anyone who you think would be helped by these posts, make them aware of this conversation and bring them over. Hopefully we’ll all learn something along the way.